The Merits of the Open Source Philosophy
Tonight, I sent my fourteen year old daughter a sample from the book “Libertarianism For Beginners.” If she likes it, I’ll gladly buy the full book for her to add to her library. The purchasing process was reasonably painless as there was a clean interface guiding me from product discovery all the way through delivery. As an added bonus, the underlying architecture for the whole thing was Linux. This is what you might call Software As a Service or SAAS. In fact, most of the SAAS systems we rely upon for our most common daily activities utilize the most popular kernel ever created and deployed in the history of computing – Linux.
So what does the book have to do with SAAS? There’s a reason I shared a book about Libertarian philosophy with Eliza and it wasn’t just because it’s a book with pictures. It’s because she recently stumbled onto watching the Atlas Shrugged movies and was intrigued by the clear way the characters present their thoughts. She could understand how individualism benefits society and how forced charity can lead to destruction. It’s not a philosophy that everyone reading this agrees to, nor should they, but it’s neat to see a young lady become infatuated with ideas instead of boys, fashion, or makeup.
In contrast, I’m reading The Cathedral and the Bazaar. This book discusses software development and also happens to be 15 years old. Why is it still selling? Wouldn’t you think in an industry with as much development as software a 15 year old book would be obsolete after a couple of years? While I’m not finished yet, I can tell you why it’s still a valid read. It’s less about the technical specifics and more about the philosophical ones. It’s a book about philosophy that happens to talk about technical specifics, and it’s quite good at it! No wonder Eric Raymond makes the rounds on the Linux Documentaries on YouTube.
To this day, I have to admit I don’t read or write code. Not only that, I think I might have filled out four bug reports in eight years. Seven of these reports turned out to be duplicates and the eighth one no one could understand what I was trying to say. I probably contribute the least to the community when it comes to the technical side. But when it comes to the philosophy, I’m a huge champion.
I work for one of those organizations that’s supposed to be responsible to a constituency while it simultaneously classifies things to reduce the ability of the constituency from auditing its processes. The idea of openness and transparency is huge. The story of Linux is compelling enough that the more we lock away things, the more I push back and point out the destructive nature of closed philosophies.
This week at work, we discussed a bit about network monitoring tools, priority managed switches going bad, and not having the software we’d like to do a job. (NMAP is not allowed). I’ve tried to convey to the powers that be that open community has the answers to all of these problems, and I work for an organization that has problems with the idea of anything being open.
2016 is the year we’re seeing a trend for openness at an unusual pace and scale. Both Microsoft and Apple have released some of the technologies as open source. Alternatives to software solutions aren’t just alternatives, they’re becoming the norm as these alternatives mature and develop in ways their proprietary counterparts can’t keep up with. We now use LibreOffice at church. NextCloud moved the whole market of self-hosted cloud solutions within weeks of their announcement.
The technical merits and failings of any solution could easily get lost in the corporate “buzzspeak.” If Linux were locked away tomorrow some sales guy would tout its popularity as a way to push more product. Linux didn’t gets its popularity because of fancy marketing. As professional as the guys are at Jupiter Broadcasting, UbuntuPodcast.org and the other podcasters out there are, combined their budgets pale in comparison for the marketing department at any major (and several minor) tech companies in the market today. It’s not the marketing, it’s the merits of the philosophy. Welcome to the bazaar. There’s always some place for you to fit in.